I hate to be a disappointment, but Easter weekend means I only got to review two matches instead of the usual three. One was a doozy: a premier matchup of Western Conference powers, while the other had a pretty incredible final five minutes. On to the show (and if you're really jonesing for some analysis of Chivas-Seattle from Saturday night, I'll probably tweet some thoughts when I catch up on it later this week).
Real Salt Lake 1 - 0 Portland Timbers
Stat that told the story for Salt Lake: 23/37 passes in attacking center of the field
Stat that told the story for Portland: 7/12 passes in attacking center of the field
We're breaking new ground with this one: I'm combining both teams' stats for this game. These two teams have had drastically different starts to the season, with RSL grinding out results against a very difficult schedule and Portland failing to do the same against an easier slate. Still, the margin of quality between these teams is pretty slim, and that fact was borne out this weekend.
From a Real Salt Lake standpoint, this game was pretty much par for the course for 2014 and really the last five seasons. Aside from a few surprising miscues in possession that gifted chances to the Timbers, RSL's diamond midfield was good in possession and solid in defense. They found a weakness in Portland's defense by attacking the channel to the right of the Timbers' centerbacks (that's where all the incisive passes above, and Ned Grabavoy's goal, came). Even though they weren't at their clinical best, using tiki-taka passes to break through the backline, RSL did their job and got three points at home.
As a Timbers fan, it's yet another missed opportunity for Portland to get that elusive first win of the year. Theories of what's plaguing the 2014 Timbers are abound, and like ghost stories or craft beers, I have my likes and dislikes. I'll say two things on PTFC here: (1) their demise is overstated. Portland has hit the post like a million times already this year,* and the Timbers have only been outscored by four goals (coincidentally the number of penalties they've given up). Once those two areas regress to the mean, it's likely the Timbers will start to earn points and earn them fast.
*Portland leads the league in posts and crossbars hit during even gamestates with four.
But that brings me to (2): the Timbers aren't playing as well as they did for much of last season. They are a team that thrives on possession when at their best, yet they've been out-possessed in each of their last five games. It's like Portland is always flooring the engine, pushing the ball vertical to rush into shots instead of occasionally using cruise control and slowing the game down. A huge issue for them in this game was their lack of penetration in attack, as illustrated by the image above. Still, the game went back and forth with Portland and RSL both controlling the game for portions, and only the quality finish by Grabavoy instead of the fluffed chances by Maxi Urruti decided the result.
Chicago Fire 1 - 1 New England Revolution
Stat that told the story for New England: Teal Bunbury playing out of position in his position
That stat above makes no sense, so I'll let someone much wiser than me explain.
Bunbury has been playing up top for New England for the entirety of this season, and while he's always been thought of as a striker, he fits better as a winger in the Revolution's system. His speed is his greatest asset while his finishing leaves something to be desired, two sure signs that lone striker isn't necessarily your best fit. At center forward in this one, Bunbury gave a lot of great effort and the team tried to set him off to the races behind Chicago's backline. But it was never particularly successful. Late in the match, Bunbury was shifted out wide as Jerry Bengtson came on, and he promptly created a chance out of nothing by simply running really fast around Chicago's left back. I'd love to see more of that and less of Bunbury struggling up top in the future for New England.
Stat that told the story for Chicago: 11 turnovers in their own half by Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
Chicago played well enough to win this game, and probably should have. If not for a poor penalty kick in stoppage time that was easily saved by Bobby Shuttleworth, the Fire would've left with three points instead of yet another draw. The draws are getting to be ridiculous for Chicago (6 in 7 games!), but they really have no one to blame but themselves. In addition to the penalty fiasco, the goal they gave up immediately followed one of those 11 turnovers by Chicago centerbacks. Patrick Nyarko was the one who gave up the penalty, but Soumare and Hurtado deserve at least a share of the blame. This was hardly an isolated incident for Chicago - their centerbacks have been shaky all season. Think they regret trading away Austin Berry right about now?
Agree with my ideas? Think I'm an idiot? I love to hear feedback: @MLSAtheist